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Rodriguez and Arizona all smiles, and rightfully so

This story is courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has notoriously struggled in his first year at new stomping grounds.

In his first year at Glenville State, he went 1-7-1. At West Virginia, 3-8 and at Michigan, 3-9.

After Saturday’s 52-17 victory against Washington, Rodriguez won his fourth game as Arizona’s head coach.

At the post game press conference, a reporter was sitting by a standing Greg Byrne, the UA athletic director, when he asked Rodriguez about what it means to have the most wins he’s ever had in the first year.

“Ask the guy beside you,” Rodriguez said with a smile.

“I like it,” responded Byrne.

This time last year, people weren’t smiling. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say ex-head coach Mike Stoops never broke a smile in a post game press conference, which is probably more of a byproduct his grouchy demeanor than anything else.

Now, Arizona is on the brink of a bowl berth. Two more wins for eligibility, three to be locked in. Get four wins, and Rodriguez might battle Oregon State’s Mike Riley for Pac-12 coach of year.

At his previous coaching stints, Rodriguez never inherited a quarterback as good, or as ready for his system, as Matt Scott.

And that’s a crucial reason why the Wildcats have adapted to his fast-paced, no-huddle offense better than any of his previous teams in the first year.

“This is the fastest transition to this tempo that I’ve had, but it’s also been more of an emphasis since day one,” Rodriguez said.

Scott has exceeded Rodriguez’s, and just about everyone else’s, wildest expectations thus far. Against Washington, Scott had a season-low 22 pass attempts, but still threw for a career-best four touchdowns.

He is currently fourth in the nation with 2,355 passing yards and 10th with 17 touchdowns — both tops in the Pac-12.

Outside of the Washington game, the Wildcats have been a pass-heavy offense, but the run game has been effective, thanks in large part to the stellar play of sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey.

He announced his presence as a top back in the Pac-12 against the Huskies, rushing for 172 yards on 29 carries. In the Wildcats’ last three games, two of which came against then-top 10 run defenses, Carey has a combined 419 yards and six touchdowns. On the year, he has 842 yards and 11 touchdowns — good for the fourth-best single season total in UA history, and 10 behind the all-time record of 21 set in 1954 by Art Luppino.

“Ka’deem Carey is a really, really talented guy,” Rodriguez said.

“He runs hungry. He makes you tackle him and boy, he took some shots.

“All he needs a little bit of crease and he breaks a lot of tackles.”

It’s no secret that defense is a weakness for this squad, but on Saturday the UA had its best performance to date. Its non-existent pass rush, well, existed against UW with four sacks. They might not play that way every week, but if the defense can even be average, the Wildcats might become a force to be reckoned with.

Next week’s matchup with USC will be a true test of just how talented this Wildcats team could be. The Trojans have arguably the most talented offense in the country, led by quarterback Matt Barkley, and top NFL prospects at receiver in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. In short, it won’t be easy.

“They have great athletes,” Wildcats’ linebacker, Jake Fischer said. “In my opinion they have the best quarterback in the country. They have great receivers, great running backs … We have our hands full from a defensive standpoint. We’re going to play with heart and passion and play as hard as we can.”